Children, moving and unexpected anxiety

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We were quite proactive about involving our children in the move. We read books about moving, discussed the move with them, took them to their new school, the new house, talked about feelings of moving etc. I researched it and felt like we were involving our children as we should.

But you can do all you like, then you move and you watch how your children react.

My daughter (aged 4) has been fine, no problems. She doesn’t express sadness at having left Tortola and loves her new school and home. She had already been to Montessori for a year so starting Reception in the U.K wasn’t difficult for her in terms of leaving me, her biggest issue was not having sandwiches but proper school lunches! Once this hurdle was over, she loved it. Reception in the UK is all about learning through play, every day is fun. It has seemed to me that for my daughter, it has been a breeze. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tantrums (and boy oh boy, she is pushing my buttons at the moment!) if she doesn’t get her way, but I have felt this is more linked to her stage of development rather than as a result of the move. She remembers her old friends from Tortola and she often uses their names when playing imaginative games or naming teddy bears/dolls. They aren’t forgotten and fortunately, I am friends with the mothers of her best friends so staying in touch is easier.

For my 6 year old son, it’s been more of a worry. He had spent three and a half years in a Montessori school and was very happy there. He had a wonderful close relationship with his teacher, who had taught him for over two years, he had great friends and was very happy. He didn’t display much sadness about leaving; he was excited about the move, coming to school in England and seeing more of his wider family. But then I know he didn’t really understand it. It was an adventure until he realised that this was his reality and there was no going back.

I think the difficulties became apparent when he started school. He was entering a year 2 class in an independent co-ed school, all the children bar one had been in the same class for a year together already. The level of academic work was higher and the method of educating was entirely different so my son felt very lost in the first few weeks of school. It was difficult. My daughter came out of her first day running to me with her new friend asking to have a playdate. I was thrilled. My son appeared at the door of his classroom looking like he was about to cry, and the next day, and the next.

‘They’re all speaking in Japanese,’ was one statement I never got to the bottom of, but I think explains how lost he felt. ‘Why didn’t I do Year 1 Mummy?’ He felt so far behind.  All the other children in his class were confidently using joined up handwriting and my son was only just beginning. It was also the method of teaching, he was used to feeling in control of his work, being more independent in a Montessori classroom and confidently helping out the younger ones – he was the older one in a mixed 3-6 year classroom. Now he was in a classroom where everyone sat down a lot more at desks, did a lot more writing and followed what the teacher directed most of the time. He didn’t like it. ‘Can I go back to my Montessori school?’ he asked one day. ‘No darling, we’re here now.’ I am sure he knows a lot more Science and Geography than his peers in his new class, there are many wider aspects of education that his Montessori background involved, but he hasn’t been able to demonstrate these yet.

I had a meeting with his teacher on the Thursday of his first week and that made a big difference. She wasn’t aware of his background at a Montessori school and she said it explained why he was so lost in the classroom. It made all the difference, suddenly he was coming home with stickers on his jumper for ‘Great work!’ The teachers’ strategy worked, suddenly he was smiling and enjoying school. I was disappointed the school hadn’t put more time into looking at my son’s background, they had all his school reports etc., but I also understand that teachers are very busy people who deserve a good summer holiday. They made up for it once they knew. He gradually made friends and by half term was enjoying himself, then with Christmas preparations and the Nativity play, he was having a lovely time. He has caught up with the cursive writing one term in and he is doing well academically.

However after the Christmas holidays, we took a step back again. Nearly a month off and he’d forgotten what school was like. The first week he came home looking miserable, ‘I hate school’, he would say most days. It was hard to get to the bottom of why he disliked school, there didn’t seem a clear cause, he just seemed unhappy. He doesn’t have any firm friends yet and he still feels lonely at school; he doesn’t always have someone to play with. I arranged to meet his teacher again who said it was normal for children to have a ‘wobble’ after the long holidays and it just takes a week or so to get back into it. But he’s also had a sore throat and a cold for over a month now so he’s not feeling one hundred per cent. That’s the other thing, you come back to the UK and your children have to catch up on the full array of English germs. Joy!

But there is something else going on with my son. It’s not just school and getting over these understandable hurdles. He’s become a real worrier, he’s really anxious about lots of things but mainly death. He asks me if I have nightmares or bad thoughts and I know that’s code for worrying about me or Daddy dying. He’s worried about someone kidnapping him from his bedroom. He’s worried about us going out for the night, what if something happens?  He’s now worried about shadows in his bedroom and we have to put his Yoda alarm clock and cup of water on the floor. I turn the news off whenever it comes on, I don’t want him to hear more worrying things (and there are plenty).

We went to one of his classmate’s parties last Saturday, I didn’t realise it until I got there that it was meant to be a drop-off party and the mother said to me two or three times, ‘You don’t have to stay,’ in a pointed manner. My son was clinging to my leg and said he wouldn’t leave me until I PROMISED I would stay, he wasn’t having any of my ‘Let’s see how it goes’ spin. ‘The WHOLE TIME, Mummy’!  He let me know he’d be watching me after I promised. I apologised to the mother but let her know, I’d be staying for the duration of the party!

This anxiety, this fear of death, this realisation of the impermanence of life I think is in part due to our move and completely changing his normal. I’m sure it’s also linked to his development but it’s creating a heady concoction of anxiety, moodiness and stress. Sometimes I feel completely exhausted trying to handle him, other times, I just hug him and reassure him that it’s all fine and he is loved and taken care of. I hope it’s more of the latter. We have a lot of hugs.

So I am a bit worried. There is a lot of advice on the web, and I am now adding to it, but I’ve found one serious piece of research which I’ve outlined below.

Feb 2012 study by the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit of the University of Stirling which traces the health impacts of 850 adults over a 20 year period, of moving in childhood.  They investigate the association between moving houses from birth to 18 on a broad range of outcomes in adulthood. Results: those who had moved at least once were at an increased risk of reduced overall health. The most frequent movers (three times or more) were twice as likely to have used illegal drugs and nearly three times as likely to have had suicidal thoughts than those who stayed in the same house. However some of these negative health outcomes were reduced by the time the participant was 36. See http://jech.bmj.com/content/66/10/942.abstract for more details. There’s a good analysis of the study on the NHS site which points out that once the researchers accounted for factors such as social deprivation and moving schools, moving house was only significantly linked to a higher chance of using drugs in later life. So don’t panic (like I just did!) See http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/02February/Pages/children-moving-house-adult-health-problems.aspx.

I moved five times involving three English speaking countries by the time I was 12 and I think I’m a well-adjusted, ‘normal’ confident human being with none of these poor health outcomes. Okay, I do still bite my finger nails and pick my split ends a bit obsessively but that’s it, I don’t smoke, use illegal drugs (although some were tried at university) and I’m healthy – but I am over 36. I found my history of moving did give me the confidence to adjust to new situations, make friends quickly and confidently and to embrace change. The setbacks – no childhood friends to speak of and a poor childhood memory, but that could just be me, my brother has a much better memory.

To conclude, we’re still working things out and settling in. We need to keep a close eye on our children as we transition to living in the U.K. There will be advantages of having a broader world education, a multi-cultural upbringing, friends all over the world and disadvantages of having to find new friends, re-adjust and feel insecure for a while. What matters is that the family stay close and keep talking.

Pre-move Advice

  • Discuss the move with your children. What it will mean.
  • Talk about the move positively, be upbeat, but also let them know that you will be sad to.
  • Make sure they are involved. They need to see the house, school they will be going to.
  • Create a scrapbook of their home, their school, their friends, places they love going to. It could be photos, a box of physical items from places the love.
  • Make sure your child’s new teacher knows about his/her background, write a letter to them if you’re not sure.
  • Read books about moving and change. We got the ‘The Moving Book – A Kids’ Survival Guide’ by Gabriel Davin for my son which was helpful, we also liked Dr Seus ‘Oh! The Places You’ll Go’ and ‘The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day’ by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
  • Try and keep their favourite things in your suitcase so they have them immediately in their new home.
  • Have a farewell party. Feel sad.

Post-move

  • Be in touch with their close friends, Skype, phone calls, writing letters.
  • Keep talking about the move.
  • Watch ‘Inside Out’! It’s a great film about the complexities of emotions linked to moving.
  • Meet your child’s teacher at regular intervals to see how they are doing.
  • Be pro-active about arranging playdates for your children.
  • Set up their bedrooms first, have those objects they love for them.
  • Get into your routines with them quick smart. That’s what kids need. Letting them slide just breeds insecurity and don’t forget to be just as strict as you were before.
  • Reassure them. Don’t push them too much if you sense they are insecure.
  • Go gently, they are processing much more change than you.
  • Congratulate them. Help them realise how well they have done to have made the transition. Boost their self-esteem and acknowledge the gains they make.
  • Make sure you have regular one-on-one time with each of your children.

 

 

 

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